BLOODSONG And Other Stories of South Africa by Ernst Havemann

BLOODSONG And Other Stories of South Africa

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KIRKUS REVIEW

From a retired mining engineer, a South African expatriate now living in Canada: 11 strong, quiet, unaffected stories--most of them exploring (like much of Nadine Gordimer's fiction) the sensibility of a right-minded white South African caught up in the injustices of apartheid, the fascinating and dispiriting clashes of culture. In about half the stories, a first-person narrator grapples with his role as the son of white landowners in Zulu territory. The title tale--by turns charming, ironic, and sadly nostalgic--recalls the day when hundreds of Zulus crossed the narrator's family farm, following an ancient trail to a tribal gathering. . .with the narrator (then a teenager) joining in as best he could. Also apparently drawn from the author's adolescence: ""The Going Home of Ntambo,"" in which the young hero is attracted to the possible psychic powers of the local Zulu witch doctor. Then, in ""A Farm at Raraba,"" the narrator is a soldier fighting Swapo guerrillas--but unwilling to kill a hapless Hottentot recruit: together they share a rueful fantasy of life in post-revolution South Africa . . .and go their separate ways. And two stories contemplate the limits of the narrator's decency: How far will he go to prevent a lynch-mob from castrating a black man accused (probably falsely) of rape? How much will he risk to help the black pal of his childhood, now grown into a fugitive (perhaps a terrorist)? Similar questions arise in ""Spirits Do Not Forgive""--political activism destroys the cheery status quo of an integrated business office--and ""The Interview,"" in which a well-meaning matron is effectively grilled (and gently threatened) by a police detective who wants information on her activist contacts (both black and white). But Havemann is persuasive, too, in nonpolitical stories: parental tyranny and sexual secrets lead to teen-age suicide and further mayhem in ""Tom and Beauty""; ""The Animal Lover"" is a near-clinical study of insensitive self-righteousness as psychopathology. Politically attuned readers may be put off by Havemann's middle-of-the-road posture, his obvious affection for the subtler conflicts of bygone decades. But he is far from naive--and the best stories here have the shaded intelligence and wry awareness of William Trevor, blending individual psychology and social issues with graceful intensity.

Pub Date: June 5th, 1987
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin